Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pictures from Oregon: The Places

The Octopus Tree (a sitka spruce) at Cape Meares:

The lighthouse at Cape Meares:

The beach at Oceanside:

Munson Falls:

The Tillamook Cheese Factory:

The view of Manzanita Beach from the top of Neahkahnie:

The Nehalem River:

Short Sands Beach:

Indian Beach:

Hug Point:

The Oregon Coast

My family has been vacationing on the Oregon Coast every summer since I was 11 years old. The first year, we rented a house in Gerhart, near Seaside. For many years after that, we stayed in a small blue house on Beeswax Lane in Manzanita. One freak year we tried Bandon, but returned to Manzanita faithfully thereafter. The house on Beeswax Lane is what the five of us kids still think of as the "real" Oregon Coast experience. That house was just a block from the beach. It was rotting from the inside out, had only one bathroom, and all five of us shared one tiny bedroom. There was no television, no radio, not even a tape or CD player. Sometimes our cousins would join us there, or other family friends with children our ages. Back in those days we played a lot of Canasta, and I loved to drink herbal tea in the assortment of beautiful mugs lining the cupboard shelves. The lawn was full of stickers, the tiny gravel covering the road to the beach hurt our feet, and for some reason I do not remember us having flip flops. We spent our days reading on the beach or in the house, and playing games.

I do not remember what year my parents decided to invest in a house on the Coast. Because real estate was much more expensive near the beach in Manzanita, they ended up going in with my uncle and aunts to buy a house in Nehalem, the next town over. The Nehalem house has many bathrooms and bedrooms, and is new and clean. We can't walk to the beach now, but it is just a short drive down the highway to Manzanita. We have a television with a VCR and DVD player. That has changed things considerably, sometimes for the better, but not always. As an adult, I appreciate the laundry room, remembering how my mom used to spend many an hour at the laundromat when we stayed on Beeswax Lane.

We just returned last night from another wonderful Oregon Coast vacation. My whole family was there this year: Mom & Dad, me, Dan, Eli, Adam, & Esther, Nathan, James (with girlfriend Victoria), Mark & Kamis, and Karen & Ben. We also had a special guest appearance by Kamis' dad, Brad, with her siblings Marissa, Logan, & Torrey, and cat Marmalade.

Over the years we have developed a number of traditional activities that must take place each year that we go to the Coast. We must spend a day at Short Sand Beach in Oswald West State Park. We must go to Indian Beach in Ecola State Park. We must make multiple walks to the jetty. We must hike to the top of Neahkahnie. We must visit the Tillamook Cheeese Factory, watch the workers making cheese down on the factory floor, sample the cheeses, and buy squeaky cheese and ice cream cones. We must go shopping in Cannon Beach, Manzanita, Nehalem, and Wheeler. We must visit the Manzanita Library. We must have all-you-can-eat fish and chips at Fisherman's Korner in Garibaldi. We must play many, many, many games. We must eat an obscene amount of ice cream. We must pick blackberries. We must send postcards to our friends.

This year, we did most of the requisite activities, and threw in a few more for good measure. We took the canoe out on the Nehalem River. We visited the lighthouse and Octopus Tree at Cape Meares. We paid a short visit to a rainbow trout fish hatchery. We hiked to Munson Falls. We played on the beach in Oceanside. We walked around Hug Point not once, but twice. This year I did not go shopping in Cannon Beach, Nehalem, or Wheeler. I did not eat an obscene amount of ice cream (and, subsequently, did not gain the usual 5-10 pounds). I did not hike to the top of Neahkahnie, but Eli did, for the very first time, with Dan. I did not play as many games as usual, but I think I got a little more sleep.

There are so many pictures I want to share from our trip this year, and last, that I think I'll do that in a separate post. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Making a Worthy Difference

Many weeks ago, Dan asked me to get him a book at the library. I requested it, but it was so popular that we had to wait a long time before we could take it home. The book was Better: A Sugeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. After he finished reading it, Dan read a part of it to me that he wanted to use in a church talk on gratitude. Today, I had to take the book back to the library, so in liu of reading it myself, I hurried to find the part Dan had shared with me. It was in the appendix, one of five suggestions that Gawande makes to his readers on "how one might make a worthy difference." As I read through his thoughts, I was struck, in particular, by two. First is the piece that Dan read to me. This comes under the suggestion Don't Complain:

"Wherever doctors gather...the natural pull of conversational gravity is toward the litany of woes all around us. But resist it. It's boring, it doesn't solve anything, and it will get you down. You don't have to be sunny about everything. Just be prepared with something else to discuss: an idea you read about, an interesting problem you came across--even the weather if that's all you've got. See if you can keep the conversation going" (253-254).

This seems like a worthy goal to make the effort to lead conversations in a positive, helpful direction. I do think there is a place for listening to a friend unload...that is sometimes the very best gift we can give to another person. But so often when conversations turn negative, they are not therapeutic at all, but actually make things worse.

The second thing I want to remember is under his suggestion Write Something:

"Write something...Just write. What you write need not achieve perfection. It need only add some small observation about your world. You should not underestimate the effect of your contribution, however modest. As Lewis Thomas once pointed out, quoting the physicist John Ziman, 'The invention of a mechanism for the systematic publication of "fragments" of scientific work may well have been the key event in the history of modern science.' By soliciting modest contributions from the many, we have produced a store of collective know-how with far greater power than any individual could have achieved" (255-256).

I like several ideas in this piece. First is the reminder that perfection is not the aim. Perfectionism is one of my biggest weaknesses. It gets in the way of living our lives, it prevents us from acting, it keeps us from learning through trial and error. If we wait to do anything until we think we can do it perfectly, we will never do it at all.

I also love the idea that the modest contributions of many can be more powerful than anything one individual could produce on her own. If you are a Harry Potter reader, you may be reminded of Voldemort's haughty refusal to trust or love anyone but himself. Although he was brilliant, his single intellect could not ultimately defeat the combined efforts of Harry and his many friends. We need to share our lives with each other. I think what this really boils down to is that everyone should have a blog :)

Latest Batch of Favorite Library Finds

Our latest library favorites:

First is Loud Emily by Alexis O'Neill, pictures by Nancy Carpenter. This little girl doesn't fit in until she leaves home and finds a group of people in need of her special talents. In the right environment, her extraordinarily loud voice becomes a blessing instead of a curse. The boys loved to hear me shout when I read Emily's lines.

The Most Magnificent Mosque by Ann Jungman, pictures by Shelley Fowles, was a great read. Not only was it a fun story about three naughty boys who grew up to be important men, but it introduced us to a real treasure of architecture, which we now want to visit someday. The three friends represent each of the major religions in Cordoba, Spain, in the 11th century: Islam, Judeaism, and Christianity. We enjoyed comparing the illustrations in the book to real photographs of the mosque that we found online.

I was surprised that Adam sat through Music for Alice by Allen Say, since it is an account of the Japanese internment camps set up in the United states during World War II. I thought it might be a bit heavy for him, but he was very interested in understanding what happened to the Japanese Americans in our country at that time. I myself didn't learn until after I graduated from high school that one of those camps was located just an hour west of Boise in Ontario, Oregon, which is where the characters in this book were sent. The book is based on the true story of Alice & Mark Sumida, who became world-famous gladiola farmers after the war.

I really enjoyed reading Silly Chicken by Rukhsana Khan, pictures by Yunmee Kyong. It is the story, set in Pakistan, of a young girl and her mother and their chicken. At first, the girl is jealous of the love her mother has for this chicken. Then after the chicken dies, the girl becomes similarly attached to the silly chicken's baby chick. The boys enjoyed it as well.

Finally, I loved Keeper of Soles by Teresa Bateman, pictures by Yayo. This is the clever and sweet tale of a kind shoe maker who puts off his own death by making many pairs of shoes for the formerly bare-footed Grim Reaper.
Well, happy reading!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Welcome to my world, boys

In February, my friend Alida gave a great presentation on finances at a women's retreat I attended. That very day, I vowed once again to make a BUDGET. Yes, I am a 32-year-old mother of three and have never had a budget. Creating and following a budget, like successfully using coupons, seems like rocket science to me. It just plain baffles the old kidneys. After tracking my expenses for several months, I have been slowly, carefully working out a system that I think I can follow. I plan to launch the new BUDGET on September 1. August is my month of following an unofficial, practice budget, to see how I do.

As part of the new BUDGET, I will be implementing a new system for teaching the boys about money. In the past, we told them that we would give them a dollar a week. We essentially never do this, and every once in a while the boys remember and say something that sounds a lot like Napoleon Dynamite complaining that we've ruined his life. Dan gets paid twice a month, on the 15th and the 31st (or 30th, or 29th, or 28th). So starting with yesterday's pay day, the boys will now receive $5 each per pay period. With their $5 they will be expected to put 10% into tithing (50 cents), 40% into savings (2 dollars), and they can spend the rest ($2.50) as their hearts desire. I started telling the boys about this new system yesterday, and that is all they talked about this morning. Adam especially kept asking me how much certain things that he wants cost, and how many pay periods it would take for him to get those things. The main thing he wanted this morning was to go see Ratatouille at Quality 16. I explained that if we went on a Tuesday, that movie would cost him $3, which he won't be able to afford until a second pay period has come. If we went on any other day of the week, the movie would cost $5.75, and he'd have to wait for two more pay periods before he would have enough money. Not to mention the popcorn and drink that he wants. On the other hand, if he waits for the movie to get to the dollar theater, he would already have enough to pay for it.

In the end, the boys decided to spend their very first dollar to see Open Season this morning for 1 dollar each. They really lucked out, because I had already purchased a popcorn bucket with free refills several weeks ago that is good for 6 months, so they got all the popcorn they could stand to eat. Then they double lucked out because we had enough holes in our punch card for two free drinks, so they got a never-ending supply of soda pop as well. Later in the day we went to the bank, where I withdrew $5 for each of them, and helped them open two little savings accounts, into which they each put 2 dollars. We went straight from there to Target, where Eli bought a rubber sea turtle that can expand to 600% its original size if you keep it in a large enough container of water, and Adam bought 12 capsules that, when soaked in hot water, dissolve into sea creature-shaped sponges. Each item cost $1.06, and they each participated in their very own transaction with a kind, smiling clerk who thought they were cute (thank goodness) and not obnoxious. Now their change (44 cents each) is safely stowed in a labeled ziploc bag in my underwear drawer, along with their tithing money, and they are already making plans for how to use their next installment of cash.

I, personally, am feeling like a very good mother. Suddenly, in one short day, I've gone from the mean person who always says no to their requests for candy, McDonald's, toys when it's not Christmas, to the sympathetic, helpful figure who knows what everything costs and how long it will take to save up for it.

Now I'm not the only person in the family counting the days until the next pay check.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Daily Duties

I grew up alongside my parents' science fiction and fantasy library. One of our favorite authors was Orson Scott Card, whose book Ender's Game joined the ranks of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings as required family reading. Finding others who had read that book was like meeting members of a secret club who spoke our own language.

As an adult, I have tried to steer myself more in the direction of nonfiction, telling myself that it is somehow loftier, more valuable, a better use of my time. But I've recently felt a craving for the good old science fiction and fantasy again, and so I went to my handy-dandy public library and brought home a bag-full. I just finished the first one tonight: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. The hero of this story, Cazaril, discovers that the gods have chosen him to perform an important task, but he doesn't know exactly what that task is or how to go about doing it. A man much older and wiser than he, who has been trying to serve the gods for many years, gives him some great advice in this exchange:

"That the goddess has set your feet on some journey on her abundantly plain..."
"But what am I supposed to be doing?"
"Speaking just from my own experience, I would surmise--your daily duties as they come to you."
"That's not very helpful."
"Yes, I know. So the gods humble the would-be wise, I think."

Do your daily duties as they come to you. I like that. By the way, that is what he does, and it all works out in the end. His path unfolds as time progresses. He never sees the big picture, he just does what needs to be done each day, and a miracle is worked through him in the process. This reminds me of the words to the hymn "Lead Kindly Light":

"I do not ask to see the distant scene--one step enough for me."

I am always wanting to see the distant scene...I want my life laid out before me, the whole plan, so that I can make decisions accordingly. I would rather figure out to occupy my time as an empty-nester (at least 17 years from now) than wash the breakfast dishes. But I believe this is misguided. I want to learn to do my daily duties as they come to me, instead of avoiding them as I dream about the future. I think I will find much more power to do good by focusing on one day at a time: today.